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US says Syria must comply on chemical weapons

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 31 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Pace of removal has “languished and stalled,” ambassador says, with only four percent of chemical arms handed over.

The United States has called on Syria to take immediate action to comply with a UN resolution to remove its chemical weapons materials, noting just four percent of Syria’s declared chemical stock has been eliminated.

Efforts to remove these materials from Syria have “seriously languished and stalled,” US Ambassador Robert Mikulak said in a statement to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Thursday.

“Syria must immediately take the necessary actions to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, Executive Council decisions, and UN Security Council Resolution 2118,” said Mikulak, the US permanent representative to the OPCW.

Timelines adopted last year required that 100 percent of “priority one” chemicals be eliminated by December 31, 2013, while the deadline for removing “priority two” chemicals is Feburary 5. That deadline will also not be met.

The Syrian government has attributed the delays to “security concerns,” saying it needs additional equipment to ensure their safe transportation – a claim Mikulak rejected.

“Syria’s requests for equipment and open-ended delaying of the removal operation could ultimately jeopardise the carefully timed and coordinated multi-state removal and destruction effort,” he said.

During a visit to Poland on Thursday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel also criticised Syrian efforts, saying he has asked his Russian counterpart to put pressure on Damascus to comply with the deal.

“I do not know what the Syrian government’s motives are – if this is incompetence – or why they are behind in delivering these materials,” Hagel told reporters in Warsaw, the capital. “They need to fix this.”

Peace talks continue

Meanwhile, peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition continued on Thursday, with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi reporting little progress.

In an afternoon update to the media in Geneva, Switzerland, Brahimi said he hoped the two sides would “draw some lessons” from the first round of talks, scheduled to end on Friday, in hopes of becoming better organised for the next round.

Terrorism was among the topics discussed on Thursday, Brahimi said, although there was no agreement on how to deal with it.

“We had tense moments and also rather promising moments,” he said.

Opposition delegation spokesman Louay Safi told reporters that the two sides had spoken about stopping the violence in Syria, noting the opposition presented evidence of government massacres within residential neighbourhoods.

Safi said the government wanted to speak first about issues such as ending the violence and bringing humanitarian aid, instead of dealing with the trickier issue of a political transition. “We believe this is the wrong sequence,” he added.

The opposition views a transitional government as the first step towards a political solution, and has insisted that President Bashar al-Assad step down.

The Geneva 1 communique, a never-implemented roadmap developed during 2012 talks, calls for a transitional government, but the regime denies the document requires Assad to resign.

(CNN) — Russia’s top diplomat chided the United Nations on Tuesday for rescinding an invitation to Iran to participate in talks aimed at ending the Syrian civil war, a move that raised questions about whether any agreement could be reached at the peace conference.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put the blame squarely on U.N. members calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying those nations had forced the United Nations to un-invite Iran — a leading Syrian ally — to the talks in Switzerland.

Lavrov called it a mistake, but “not a catastrophe,” adding that Russia and others will push for balanced talks between those representing al-Assad and the rebels.

He pointed out that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, recognized publicly that Iran is an important player in resolving the Syrian conflict.

Could Syria ‘torture photos’ be a game-changer for peace talks?

The topic was key in one-on-one talks between Lavrov and Kerry on Tuesday. The two met behind closed doors at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace on the shores of Lake Geneva.

That meeting was followed by another that included Kerry, Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. They all agreed on the significance of having representatives of the regime and the rebels at the negotiating table, according to a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The four also agreed on the importance of “beginning the long process of negotiating a transitional governing body by mutual consent,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Kerry also briefly joined a meeting between senior U.S. officials and representatives of the Syrian opposition coalition, according to the official.

The peace talks also were front and center in a telephone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. The two discussed preparations for the talks, according to a statement released by the White House.

A preliminary international session is scheduled for Wednesday in Montreux, with talks between the Syrian government and opposition delegations slated to begin Friday in Geneva.

According to breaking news banners on Syrian state-run television, the plane transporting the Syrian government delegation to the peace talks was prevented from refueling at Athens International Airport in Greece after landing there Tuesday, despite having the necessary permits.

Later, state TV said the government’s delegation had landed in Geneva.

Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad regime

‘Lack of courage’

The last-minute invitation to Iran had threatened to derail the talks after the main Syrian opposition group and the United States opposed it.

Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said Iran’s attendance would have been “a deal breaker.” He told CNN that Ban “did the right thing” by withdrawing Iran’s invitation.

Iran, meanwhile, had already announced that it wouldn’t be attending the peace conference because it would not tolerate any preconditions for joining the talks — including acceptance of the framework laid out in a previous conference which foresees a transitional government.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the talks cannot be taken seriously without Iran.

“The thing that has happened with the withdrawal of the invitation to Iran, I believe that’s unacceptable,” Medvedev said in an exclusive interview to air Wednesday on CNN’s Amanpour. “Can someone think the Syrian problem can be seriously discussed without the Iranian factor and their account of it?”

Lavrov said Monday that Iran’s absence from the list of countries invited to the talks would make the conference “resemble something profane,” according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency. Moscow has been a longstanding ally of the Syrian government.

And Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran’s state-run Fars News agency that he considered the situation to be unworthy of Ban.

“What disappoints us most is the lack of courage to state the real reason for the withdrawal of the invitation,” he is quoted as saying, adding that the United Nations laid the fault at the door of Iranian officials.

“It is obvious that the United States and certain other groups who have the blood of the Syrian people on their hands have put pressure on Mr. Ban Ki-moon and forced him into doing this, and he had to justify his action.”

Zarif said Ban had consulted with him several times and that Iran had made clear it would not accept any preconditions for the talks, and that it would “consider any statement to the contrary by the Secretary-General as being false.”

Iran out of peace conference on Syria

‘Deeply disappointed’

Ban arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday.

His spokesman, Martin Nesirky, told reporters Monday that Ban, who issued the invitation Sunday, believed he had Iran’s assurance that it accepted the original Geneva declaration.

“The secretary-general is deeply disappointed by Iranian public statements today that are not at all consistent with that stated commitment,” Nesirky said. The declaration “remains the internationally agreed framework for ending the crisis,” he said — and without Iran’s acceptance of it, this week’s conference “will proceed without Iran’s participation,” he added.

4 things to know about Syria

The goal of the talks is to set up a transitional government to help end the violence that has wracked the country.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the revolt against al-Assad’s government began in 2011. The first round of peace talks — known as the Geneva I communiqué — calls for a transitional government and eventual free elections as part of a political settlement to end the war.

Al-Assad has called for the conference to include a focus on “fighting terrorism” in Syria. Throughout the civil war, Syria has blamed violence on “terrorists.”

In a meeting with Syria’s delegates to the talks, al-Assad directed them to preserve their nation’s sovereignty by “preventing and rejecting any foreign interference no matter its form and context,” Syria’s state-run news agency, SANA, reported Monday.

Al-Assad also said no political solution could be reached without the agreement of the Syrian people and “first and foremost the complete cessation of terrorism” and its support by other countries, the news agency said.

Syrian opposition votes to attend Geneva 2 peace talks

Outside backing

Western intelligence officials believe Iran has provided fighters, intelligence and communications to support al-Assad.

In addition, fighters from the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah have seen combat in Syria on the side of the government.

Most outside support for rebel forces has come from the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

U.S. aid has been limited largely to nonlethal assistance such as communications gear and medical equipment, and American officials have struggled with how to back opposition groups without providing weapons to those linked to Islamic militants.

How Syria talks were derailed before they started

UN invites Iran to Syria peace talks

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 20 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has invited Iran to take part in preliminary Syrian peace talks this week in Switzerland, an offer Tehran has accepted.

Mr Ban said he had received assurances that Iran would play a positive role in securing a transitional government.

But Syria’s main opposition group said it would withdraw from the talks unless Mr Ban retracted the offer to Iran.

And the US said the offer must be conditional on Iran’s support for the 2012 deal on Syria’s transition.

The Syria peace conference has been more than a year in the making and now it is in disarray before it’s even started, reports the BBC’s Kim Ghattas.

The UN move appeared to take American officials by surprise, she adds.

Preliminary talks are due to open in Montreux on Wednesday and then continue in Geneva two days later.

Syria’s government earlier agreed to attend the meeting.

The three-year conflict in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people.

An estimated two million people have fled the country and some 6.5 million have been internally displaced.

US reservations

On Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban said that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had pledged that Tehran would play “a positive and constructive” role in Montreux.

“As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis,” he added.

And Mr Ban stressed: “Let me be clear – Montreux is not a venue for negotiations. The Syrian parties themselves will begin that process in Geneva on 24 January.”

Shortly afterwards, Iran said it accepted the invitation. Tehran had earlier insisted it wanted to take part but without preconditions.

There had been a dispute over whether Iran, a crucial ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, should be taking part in the talks.

The UN and Russia had advocated a role for Tehran, but the US had reservations because of its failure to endorse the 2012 Geneva communique, detailing Syria’s political transition process.

Washington is also concerned about Iran’s deployment of military personnel in Syria, and its support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, which had sent fighters to bolster Mr Assad’s forces.

Responding to Mr Ban’s invitation, Syria’s main political opposition group, the National Coalition, threatened to withdraw from the Geneva talks.

In a tweet, SNC spokesman Louay Safi wrote: “The Syrian Coalition announces that they will withdraw their attendance in G2 unless Ban Ki-moon retracts Iran’s invitation.”

In a statement, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington viewed Mr Ban’s invitation “as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communique including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities.

“This is something Iran has never done publicly and something we have long made clear is required,” Ms Psaki added.

“We also remain deeply concerned about Iran’s contributions to the Assad regime’s brutal campaign against its own people, which has contributed to the growth of extremism and instability in the region.

“If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communiqué, the invitation must be rescinded.”

‘Courageous vote’

Conflict damage in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: 18 January 2014
Syria has been devastated by the conflict which began in March 2011

The National Coalition had only agreed to attend the talks two days ago.

The coalition’s leader, Ahmad Jarba, said on Saturday that the National Coalition was going to the talks “without any bargain regarding the principles of the revolution and we will not be cheated by Assad’s regime”.

“The negotiating table for us is a track toward achieving the demands of the revolution – at the top of them, removing the butcher from power,” he added.

US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the decision.

“This is a courageous vote in the interests of all the Syrian people who have suffered so horribly under the brutality of the Assad regime and a civil war without end,” he said in a statement.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also praised the National Coalition’s “difficult decision”, adding: “As I have said many times, any mutually agreed settlement means that Assad can play no role in Syria’s future.”

Syrian opposition figures had earlier expressed reluctance to go to Switzerland unless President Assad was excluded from any future transitional government.

Damascus says there cannot be any pre-conditions for the talks.

Nearly 700 killed in Syria rebel infighting

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 13 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Nearly 700 people have been killed in nine days of fierce clashes between an al Qaeda affiliate and other Islamist and rebel groups, activists said Sunday.

Forces from the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have increasingly come into conflict with Free Syrian Army fighters and other hard-line factions opposing the Syrian regime, while ISIS attempts to impose its strict form of Islamic Sharia law on areas coming under its control in northern Syria.

In the last nine days, 697 people have been killed in the fighting, activists said.

The victims include 351 combatants from the Islamist and non-Islamist rebel battalions, 246 ISIS fighters, and 100 civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The activist group said the deaths took place between January 3 and January 12.

Among the 100 civilians killed in the clashes, 21 were executed by ISIS in the children’s hospital in Qadi Askar in the northern rebel stronghold of Aleppo, the group said.

CNN cannot independently verify daily death tolls, but the United Nations has said more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011.

Foreign ministers meet

The violence came as the “Friends of Syria” group of foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, convened in Paris on Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Syrian opposition to attend a peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of January.

The Western-backed rebels are deeply divided on whether to go and will announce a decision on January 17.

“There is no military solution to the violence,” Kerry said Sunday about a proposed new round of peace talks. “There is no other alternative to saving the nation of Syria than negotiations.”

Kerry said he has “no expectations” about the success of the so-called Geneva II talks, but that the sides need to enter the meetings with the goal of “waging an even stronger effort to provide for this political solution.”

“I am confident the Syrian opposition will come to Geneva,” Kerry said.

Kerry added that Russian leaders have assured him they’ll attend.

In a statement, the alliance of mainly Western and Gulf Arab countries called on armed groups to “respect democratic and pluralistic values” and allow humanitarian access.

It condemned the presence of foreign fighters in Syria, “both those fighting with the regime such as Hezbollah and other Iranian backed forces, and those fighting within other extremist groups,” and demanded their immediate withdrawal.

It urged democratic opposition forces to keep opposing groups affiliated with al Qaeda.

“We fully support the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army and other democratic opposition forces in their action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” it said. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is another name for ISIS.

Uneasy alliance

For months, the rebel groups maintained an uneasy alliance as they fought to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

But now, the infighting has threatened to tip the balance among rebel forces toward militant groups and away from more secular brigades.

In a statement, the opposition Syrian Coalition media office condemned “any and all violations” and said armed gangs were taking advantage of the infighting between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army.

The statement, signed by Syrian Coalition media office director Khalid Saleh, cited these as “illegal practices, intimidating civilians, and theft, taking place all over Syria; particularly in the northern parts of the country.”

“We call on FSA brigades to work with civil revolutionary bodies and local councils operating in those areas to address the threat of those gangs, and make sure those gangsters are hunted down and brought to justice,” the statement said.

In Iraq, where at least nine people were killed and more than 40 wounded in several car explosions on Sunday, security forces in Mosul said they have detained 137 ISIS suspects in a series of raids in the city over the past seven days.

U.N. official in Damascus

On a visit to Damascus on Sunday, the United Nations humanitarian chief expressed concern for communities cut off by the months of fighting between government and rebel forces.

“I am particularly worried about the reports of starvation,” Valerie Amos said in a statement after meeting with government officials as well as humanitarian organizations.

“The world must do more for all the people who are displaced. Many families are living in abandoned buildings, schools or in makeshift shelters, without enough food, clean water or medicine. We must help them to get through this very cold winter,” she said after visiting a shelter in rural Damascus.

Amos recognized steps taken by the government to approve visas so aid can get in.

“But we need to do more in a crisis of this magnitude,” she said.